Plenty has already been written on the shamefully low turnout in the election. This editorial is typical:
Low voting turnout a product of many factors
Until 30 or so years ago, it was customary for 85 to 90 per cent of those New Zealanders eligible to vote in general elections to do so. From that standpoint, the worry aroused by that figure sliding to 68.8 per cent on Saturday has an obvious validity.
In sum, a million eligible people did not bother to vote. Yet it would be wise to keep this in perspective. The long-term decline in voting, especially by young adults, is far from restricted to this country. Add in some peculiarities associated with Saturday’s poll and the turnout becomes more explicable.
Probably the most notable of these is that many saw the result as a foregone conclusion. It is telling that the previous lowest turnout occurred in 2002. Just 72.5 per cent of those eligible voted in a contest that pitted a high-flying Helen Clark against Bill English and a struggling National Party. …
Part of the reason for this may have been the truncated campaign. Rugby’s World Cup cut back the time for the presenting and dissection of policies. …
Other factors have also been advanced. A Statistics New Zealand analyst has suggested many migrants could be among those who failed to vote. If so, that is understandable. It takes time for immigrants to accustom themselves to the politics, issues and voting systems of a new country. …
Undoubtedly more people stay away from polling stations because of apathy or a sense of disconnection. That remains a persistent concern. Even if certain quirks explain much of Saturday’s low turnout, the unfortunate outcome is that Parliament has become less and less truly representative of New Zealanders.
I’d like to add something to the list that the anonymous editorial writer appears not, for whatever reason, to have thought of. That item is the role of the media in politics.
Most of the media (honourable exception for public service) exists as a medium to entertain, and to sell advertising. It feeds on sensation and pseduo-celebrity. It doesn’t provide a forum for fact-checking, in depth analysis, or considered argument. Consequently it reduces politics to a circus of photo opportunities and sound-bites. Conflict and “scandal” are highlighted, and we almost never get to hear about important social or policy issues (again with occasional rare exceptions like the TV3 investigations into child poverty). It is any wonder that people get pissed off with politics and just switch off?
I’m not saying that it’s “all the media’s fault” – it is what it is, and we have to live with it. But in any consideration of reasons for falling voter turnout, an honest media would have to put itself on the list.